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The Allure of Ornamental Grasses

February 5th, 2010

ornamental-grass.jpgThere are plenty of reasons for the growing popularity of ornamental grasses in backyard gardens. In the United States, these hearty perennials remind us of our natural landscape. They provide year-round color and beauty, are drought resistant once established and are as close to maintenance free as most plants come. Moreover, there is something magical and hypnotic in the way these grasses sway in the breeze and seem to whisper a gentle song. The silky feathers of their summer plumes will add both music and texture to your garden.

Ornamental grasses are a bit expensive to purchase, but provide a fine investment in that they are quite vigorous and require frequent division. A small up-front investment can fill a large area in just a few years.

While there are hundreds of varieties and an ever-increasing number of hybrids, grasses are generally classified as Warm or Cool Season grasses. Cool Season grasses come to life at the first hint of spring, while the Warm Season variety prefer to wait until late spring or early summer to emerge from dormancy. Most ornamental grasses will thrive in a variety of soils with no particular pH requirements. They will, of course, grow faster in full sun, but partial shade is fine.

Ornamental grasses attract attention with their decorative leaves, graceful spikes, and groupings of tiny flowers that bloom in summer. They vary in height from one to six feet and can be found in multiple shades of green, yellow, red, blue, and stripes. Most of these types of grasses will dry to a beautiful shade of wheat during the winter. They may be cut and dried for indoor enjoyment, but most gardeners prefer to leave them in place for year-round beauty in otherwise stark winter landscapes. They also perform exceedingly well in containers.

Grasses should be cut back in early spring with care taken to avoid cutting the new growth. Early spring is also the best time to feed the plants with a slow release fertilizer.

In planning a garden layout, it’s important to separate grasses by a distance which is at least equal to their eventual height. This will not only promote healthy root growth, but will allow room for the feathery movement which is a vital component of their allure.

In choosing species of grass for planting, be sure to select varieties which are suitable to your climate zone and aim for a mixture of color and texture. Current popular choices available in most nurseries include Fountain Grass, Zebra Grass, Japanese Blood Grass, Feather Reed Grass and Karl Foerster, named after a German grower who played a large role in the ornamental grass renaissance. To ensure varied and continual color in your garden, plant a mix of warm and cool grasses.

With very little care, ornamental grasses will provide the weekend gardener with four seasons of beauty and add an element of serenity to your overall garden design.

This article on ornamental grasses was sent to us by Mary Asbury from Constant Content.

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